THERE IS an emotional allure to the finest textiles that goes beyond their visual impact. The concentration and tactile eloquence required of such handiwork takes them well beyond craft.
There has never been clothing of this beauty. It is as though its thread had been spun from the soul. Creating thy form this graceful has made thy soul this beautiful.
The verse from an 11th-century Persian poem, woven into the cartouches of a 16th-century fabric, is a simile inside a metaphor turned on itself: The poet weaves words into a visual image, then purls that into a spiritual image, and then the weaver makes both images tangible. It is from this verse, from this fabric, that the Textile Museum has taken the name of its exquisite new exhibit of Persian rugs and fabrics, "Woven from the Soul, Spun from the Heart: Textile Arts of Safavid and Qajar Iran, 16th-19th Centuries."
This is an Oriental inamorata of an exhibit, seemingly reserved but with textures and workmanship so concentrated that they have a powerful physical impact. More than three years in preparation, the show comprises some 120 artifacts, from fragments of cloth and a child's hankie-sized samplers to the elaborate double-faced coats of Safavid aristocracy to an imperial-quality 17th-century rug 27 1/2 feet long.
The colors are muted both by time and technique: teal, turquoise and Prussian blues; beige, ochre, pale gold and silver; and the vast range of rose, red, crimson and purple. But among the most fantastic pieces are a white-on-white drape of embroidery with inscription and stitching impossibly fine; and a late 17th-century coat lavishly embroidered with parrots and flowers, but itself of a gun-metal foil-wrapped silk that shifts with the light from silver to taupe to the palest of lavender.
The techniques are in some cases breathtaking; the diagrams and drawings by Milton Sonday of New York's Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design only make the weavings more magical. Velvet, damask, silk lampas and cotton; handloomed, broadloomed, mechanically produced and hand-stiched, these remnants of a great medieval culture are also silent historians of trade.
And just as the title recalls the poem-in-fabric pun, so the whole exhibit reflects the interweaving of cultures and technology: of the gradual mechanization and commercialization of the textile industry, of the effect the Russian and English industrial revolutions had on the textile trade, and of the waxing and waning of Portuguese, Dutch, French, English and Russian merchant power.WOVEN FROM THE SOUL, SPUN FROM THE HEART --
at the Textile Museum through January 29.